American snowboarder Ross Powers won the Olympic bronze medal in the halfpipe four years ago in Nagano, Japan. In a feature written by Josh Madden, VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer reports Powers is back to try to go for the gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Ross Powers began snowboarding when the sport was, well, not really considered a sport. But he has helped transform snowboarding into not only a sport but one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. Snowboarding became an official Olympic medal event in 1998 and Powers captured the bronze medal in the halfpipe.

Powers says he learned a lot from competing in Nagano four years ago.

"Just the whole Olympic process and what you go through with all the media," he explains. " Since I went in '98 and I have been through it all, now I don't have to really worry about that, and I can more focus on what I am going to do when I get there, and I already know what is going to happen."

Ross Powers began skiing when he was just a toddler. He first started snowboarding at age seven at the ski area in Vermont where his mother worked. He competed in his first U.S. Open the next year at the age of nine as his fourth grade class looked on. The South Londonderry, Vermont native has developed a reputation as not only one of the most creative talents in snowboarding, but also as one of the most consistent. He is a five-time champion of the U.S. Halfpipe, winning in 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998 and 1999. He is known internationally as "The First, The Youngest and The Best."

The 22-year-old snowboarder competes in three events: the halfpipe, the slopestyle and the snowboardcross. But Powers' specialty is the halfpipe, which is the only one of those three in the Olympics. As a high school freshman, Powers became the youngest national halfpipe champion. In 2000, he captured all three Triple Crown halfpipe events.

A halfpipe is created by building a channel in the snow. The snowboarder rides back and forth from one wall to the other in order to increase momentum and then jump as high as possible while performing a series of tricky manuevers. Five judges score one aspect of the performance, including standard maneuvers, rotations, amplitude and overall impression. In the '98 Olympics, each entrant was allowed two runs, both of which counted toward the final score. But in Salt Lake City, only the best run will count.

Powers acknowledged that he was conservative four years ago and minimized the number of risky manuevers.

"[In] My performance in '98, I did tricks that I have been doing for a while, just tried to put in big amplitude and just ride smooth and everything," he says. "I had tricks that I could have done that were harder. But I definitely wanted to go for the medal and be consistent."

This year, however, with two separate chances, Powers expects to be more daring - and he expects to end up back on the medal stand.

"I definitely plan to put in some harder tricks and I'll be able to go for it a little more. Since '98, I learned some tricks like McTwist 900 and Switch McTwist 900 and with the superpipe, amplitude has gotten a lot bigger with all the tricks," he says. "But I've started linking some of the harder tricks back to back, which is good for me."

Ross Powers has established himself as one of the premier snowboarders over the past five years. He won the International Ski Federation World Cup championship in 1996 and 1999. He was the International Snowboard Federation World Cup champion in 2000. In 1999, Powers was the U.S. Open champion.

His other titles include both the halfpipe and the slopestyle at the '98 X-Games. He placed first in 1998 and 1999 at the Mount Bachelor Grand Prix.

And he won gold medals at the 2000 Gravity Games and Goodwill Games.

Speaking of good will, Powers has already formed a charitable foundation that helps promising Vermont snowboarders with financial difficulties get their careers off the ground. He formed this foundation after a snowboarder at Stratton Mountain School, the world-class ski academy that Powers attended, was going to have to withdraw because the death of a parent led to financial shortcomings. Powers made a donation and the Foundation, which receives most of its funding through private and corporate donations, became a way for the snowboarder to give back to the community.

Powers' attitude and actions are a breath of fresh air for a sport that has had some athletes give the sport a black eye. Canadian Ross Rebagliati tested positive for marijuana at the Nagano Olympics and nearly had his snowboarding giant slalom gold medal taken away. Austrian Martin Freinademetz was kicked out of the Olympics after a drunken hotel party incident came to light. And star Norwegian snowboarder Terje Haakonsen boycotted the Nagano games over issues with the IOC's image. Ross Powers is almost single-handedly cleaning up the image of a sport that is known as one comprised of mainly rebellious youths.

But now Powers has got more on his wish list than just being a sponsor's dream promoter or making the U.S. team. There is still one more medal he wants to win before he can be fully satisfied with his accomplishments - and that is Olympic gold. Ross Powers has come a long way from when people thought he was foolish because he dreamt of becoming a professional snowboarder while growing up. Now he is not only a pro snowboarder, but he is on the brink of becoming the face of U.S. snowboarding.